Tuesday, 23 July 2024


Three men from Winters, Calif., escaped from a burning 2009 Chevrolet pickup after it was hit in a fatal three-vehicle collision on Highway 20 in Lake County, Calif., on Sunday, July 18, 2010. Here the shell of the burned out pickup is shown after firefighters extinguished it. Photo by Miguel Lanigan.





PARADISE VALLEY – A young Chico woman was identified as the victim of a fatal vehicle crash that occurred on Highway 20 Sunday afternoon and left five other people injured.

Marina Bajczi, 22, died when her 2005 Chevrolet Equinox SUV was hit by a 2002 Itasca motorhome driven by 73-year-old Ernie Hunt of Cloverdale, according to a Monday California Highway Patrol report.

Hunt was traveling westbound on Highway 20 east of Verna Way near the Paradise Cove subdivision at an unknown speed when, for an unknown reason, he drifted to the left across the double yellow lines, colliding with the left front of Bajczi's vehicle, the report from CHP Officer Mark Crutcher said.

At the scene on Sunday Crutcher told Lake County News that Hunt's motorhome essentially “t-boned” Bajczi's Equinox, which had been traveling at about 35 to 40 miles per hour on impact.

After hitting Bajczi, Hunt's motorhome continued out of control, Crutcher said, hitting the front of a 2009 Chevrolet full-size pickup driven by Claude Speegle, 57, of Winters, who had been directly behind the Equinox.

The motorhome then continued off the roadway and down a steep embankment, where Crutcher said it burst into flames, causing a grass fire that burned on both sides of the roadway.

Northshore Fire Protection District and Cal Fire held joint incident command on the incident, with assistance from Lake County Fire Protection, Lake County Fire Protection and US Forest Service, according to Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown.

Brown said Sunday that the resulting grass fire burned about five acres of grass and oaks.

The motorhome was destroyed by the fire, burning down to a heap of charred metal parts on the embankment.

Bajczi died at the scene, Crutcher said, while Hunt – who Brown said was pulled from the burning motorhome by some good Samaritans from the nearby subdivision – was flown by REACH air ambulance to UC Davis Medical Center for treatment of burns.




California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Domby examines the 2005 Chevrolet Equinox driven by Marina Bajczi, 22, of Chico, Calif., who died on Sunday, July 18, 2010, when her vehicle was hit by a motorhome driven by Ernie Hunt, 73, of Cloverdale, Calif., on Highway 20 in Lake County, Calif. Photo by Miguel Lanigan.




Ruben Masso, 30, of Chico, who was Bajczi's passenger, was transported by by REACH to Enloe Hospital, Crutcher said.

Masso was complaining of lacerations and pain, and was said to have sustained major injuries. Crutcher said he had been unable to get an update on Masso's condition as of Monday morning.

Speegle and his two passengers – 67-year-old Nick Scholl and Bob Fenili, 54, both of Winters – managed to escape from the pickup, which caught fire and was destroyed, the CHP said.

Both Speegle and Fenili had minor injuries, with Speegle complaining of pain to his chest and Fenili suffering lacerations to his left leg. Crutcher reported that Scholl had moderate injuries, with facial lacerations.

Crutcher said he had spoken with Hunt on Monday morning. Hunt sustained burns covering 8 percent of his body, and had some injuries to his neck and back.

As to the cause of the crash, “Alcohol and drugs are not a factor at this time,” Crutcher said.

Crutcher said all six people involved in the collision were wearing their safety belts.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .




A firefighter continues wetting down a 2002 Itasca motorhome driven by 73-year-old Ernie Hunt of Cloverdale, Calif. The vehicle was destroyed by fire after it collided with two other vehicles in a crash that claimed a woman's life on Highway 20 in Lake County, Calif., on Sunday, July 18, 2010. Photo by Miguel Lanigan.

John Eells of Lucerne, Calif., and his dog, Patch, work on commands. Eells is hard of hearing and Patch alerts him to important sounds. Photo by Tera DeVroede.




SONOMA AND LAKE COUNTIES – Using the bond between humans and dogs that stretches back millenia, Canine Companions for Independence offer companionship, independence and life-changing services for those who need it in the form of highly trained service dogs.

Canine Companions for Independence was founded in 1975 and is based in Santa Rosa. Since then, the organization has expanded to become the largest assistance dog organization in the world.

They train four types of dogs: service dogs, facility dogs, hearing aid dogs and skilled companions. These dogs serve groups of people in education, health care and courtroom settings, and are provided free of charge.

Service dogs assist people with physical disabilities and challenges, while facility dogs serve many people in a business setting and are also therapeutic visitors.

Hearing aid dogs are trained to alert people to certain sounds and other things the hearing impaired may need. Skilled companions aid those who have a developmental disorder – mostly children.

Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and crosses of the two are the breeds of dogs that Canine Companions for Independence trains.

“Temperament, intelligence, a willingness to serve and health factors make these dogs the ideal dogs for our program,” said Bonnie McMellon, Northwest Development Associate for CCI.

All of the puppy raising, training and placing is funded by volunteer from the communities that CCI serves. The United States is broken up into five regions with training facilities throughout.

Northern California is in the northwest region along with Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and northern Nevada. Then there’s north central, northeast, southeast and southwest regions making up the rest of America.

“Two hundred and 76 puppies are being raised right now in the northwest region,” McMellon said. “There are 1,106 puppies being raised right now, nationwide. There are currently five active graduates with their dogs and four puppies being raised by volunteer puppy raisers living in Lake County.”

Puppies are transferred from the breeders to the puppy raisers at eight weeks of age, where they learn basic obedience skills, said McMellon. When the dog is approximately one and a half years old, it is turned into a regional training center for advanced training by professional training staff, she said.

Volunteers play a crucial role in sustaining the extensive service CCI offers to the public in need of such companionship. The organization is supported through corporate and private donations.

Hundreds aof corporations and caring folks are thanked for their contributions; for the complete list, visit http://www.cci.org/site/c.cdKGIRNqEmG/b.3978475/k.BED8/Home.htm.

Canine Companions is celebrating its 35th anniversary – and 245 dog years – in style with the 2010 Bone Appétit – A Celebration of Great Pairings on Sept. 12. The event is a major fundraiser for the Santa Rosa Northwest Regional Center. This year is set to be straight from the 1970s, with period attire expected.

They hope to raise $200,000 in donations at their event, which will take place at the 12-acre Jean and Charles Schulz Campus on Dutton Avenue in Santa Rosa. Six hundred guests will be treated to cuisine from over 40 restaurants and wineries, live music and a silent auction. But, one of the main attractions is sure to be the puppies-in-training, who will be there for the attention.

“Nationwide, we have 98 volunteer breeder-caretakers and 950 volunteer puppy raisers who donate their time and money towards raising puppies for our organization. We would not be able to place as many dogs as we currently do, without their dedication and financial assistance,” said McMellon.

Live dog-training demonstrations will showcase the dogs’ abilities and professional training that will enhance the lives of those who need their help.

Once someone in the northwest regions is matched with a dog, they attend the training center in Santa Rosa for a two-week-long intensive training for both the person and the dog. Most people stay at the center’s hotel.

During that two week period, the person gets to know their service dog and learns how to use the 40 commands the dogs have been learning since their training began as puppies.

But, the services do not end once the dogs are placed with their graduates. They also have followup services to ensure the process goes smoothly.

Emma and Kenneth

Emma Kucer is 9 years old. She lives with her mother Tracey, her siblings and her dog Kenneth, in Hidden Valley Lake. Kenneth is Emma’s skilled companion and assists her with difficulties relating to her disability, Down Syndrome.

Tracey Kucer was open to anything that would help her daughter be more independent. So, after a friend told her to look into getting s service dog, she contacted CCI. She and Emma were matched with Kenneth in the spring of 2008 – nine months after they applied.

“The length of time it takes to get a dog depends on the type of service dog requested,” said McMellon. “The average wait time to receive a dog once someone is placed on our candidates lists it six months to two years.”

Once she got word that they were to receive a service dog, the mom and daughter packed their bags and headed to Santa Rosa.

“The stay was so nice. They provide meals and it is all free,” Kucer said. “It is also a great experience being with a group of people who have children with other unique needs and stories to share.”

Kenneth also acts as a social bridge between Emma and other children who can sometimes be frightened of her disability, said Kucer. Whenever Kenneth is with Emma, other kids come running.

Emma's speech is not always intelligible, so Kucer has been acting as her translator on top of mother. But, she reports that Kenneth understands any and every command Emma gives him.

“Their bond is so strong,” said Kucer. “Kenneth is the best dog we could have ever hoped for – he came fully trained.”

Kucer plans to look into applying for other dogs for Emma in the future, but also hopes that time doesn’t come too soon.




Patch pays close attention to his owner, John Eells of Lucerne, Calif. The assistance dog recently decided that it was important to alert Eells to a new sound

A Cal Fire mapping specialist has been deployed to Florida to assist in the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Joe Larson, a Cal Fire geographical information system specialist from San Luis Obispo County, left Saturday morning for Tallahassee, Fla., to assist in mapping the spread of oil towards the Florida Coast.

As a mapping specialist, Larson’s normal duties include mapping fire perimeters, updating emergency response areas and fire hazard severity zones.

His out-of-state mission will be to lead the Technical Services Branch in the Florida Emergency Operation Center in its support for the Deepwater Horizon efforts.

Larson is scheduled to be assigned to the mission for at least two weeks.

“I am proud of Cal Fire's worldwide reputation in superior disaster response and emergency management, “ said Chief Del Walters, Cal Fire director. “Florida sent resources to California during the 2008 lightning fire siege, and this opportunity is allowing us to return the favor.”

The request for assistance by Florida emergency officials was made on July 16 through the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) and the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), a congressionally ratified organization that provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid.

Through EMAC, a disaster impacted state can request and receive assistance from other member states quickly and efficiently.

Though Cal Fire is best known for its wildfire fighting activities, the department has often been called on to respond to all types of disasters in California and in other states.

In 2005 for example, Cal Fire sent a team of emergency responders to Louisiana to assist in the incident command of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County's unemployment dropped slightly in June, as did the state and national rates, according to the state's most recent employment data.

The California Employment Development Department released its month unemployment report on Friday.

The report showed that Lake County's unemployment rate for June was 16.8 percent, down from 17.1 percent in May but up from the 14.8-percent rate reported in June 2009. The county ranked No. 50 out of the state's 58 counties for unemployment.

California’s unemployment rate decreased to 12.3 percent in June, down slightly from 12.4 percent from May, but up from 11.6 percent in June 2009. The state said that rate is derived from a federal survey of 5,500 California households.

Nonfarm jobs in California totaled 13,880,700 in June, a decrease of 27,600 over the month, according to a survey of businesses that is larger and less variable statistically. The state said the survey of 42,000 California businesses measures jobs in the economy.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nation's June unemployment rate was 9.5 percent, down from 9.7 percent in May. That rate was the same as that registered in June 2009, the agency reported.

In California, the lowest unemployment rate in June once again was in Marin, where the number of jobless residents totaled 8.2 percent, up slightly from its 7.9 percent rate in May, according to the data.

The report showed that Imperial County repeated as the county with the state's highest unemployment rate, which in June was 27.6 percent.

Lake County's labor force included approximately 26,470 people in June, of which 4,460 were out of work. State records showed the county's workers totaled 25,810 in May, when 4,420 people were unemployed.

Lake's neighboring counties posted the following rates and state rankings: Glenn, 15.5 percent, No. 42; Mendocino, 10.8 percent, No. 13; Napa, 9.3 percent, No. 4; Sonoma, 10.4 percent, No. 10; and Yolo, 11.9 percent, No. 23.

Upper Lake was the county area with the lowest unemployment in June – 8.7 percent – while the highest unemployment locally was in Clearlake Oaks, where joblessness totaled 24.9 percent, according to detailed state labor data.

The following unemployment rates were reported for other areas of the county, from highest to lowest: Nice, 24.4 percent; city of Clearlake, 24 percent; Lucerne, 17.8 percent; Kelseyville and Middletown tied with 17.1 percent; city of Lakeport, 16.2 percent; Cobb, 15.1 percent; Lower Lake, 14.1 percent; Hidden Valley Lake, 13.9 percent; north Lakeport, 13.3 percent.

State shows slight job losses in June

The California Employment Development Department reported that the state registered some job losses in June.

The report noted that the year-over-year change – June 2009 to June 2010 – showed a decrease of 186,100 jobs, down 1.3 percent.

The Employment Development Department reported that losses were primarily in government employment, mostly temporary federal census jobs, while private nonfarm payrolls grew by 1,300 jobs.

The federal survey of households, done with a smaller sample than the survey of employers, showed an increase in the number of employed people during the month. It estimated the number of Californians holding jobs in June was 16,070,000, an increase of 8,000 from May, but down 100,000 from the

employment total in June of last year.

The number of people unemployed in California was 2,244,000 – down by 31,000 over the month, but up by 132,000 compared with June of last year, according to the Employment Development Department.

The agency reported that there were 643,428 people receiving regular unemployment insurance benefits during the June survey week, compared with 675,201 in May and 820,387 in 2009. At the same time, new claims for unemployment insurance were 75,866 in June 2010, compared with 70,439 in May and 86,016 in June of last year.

When federal unemployment insurance extensions are included, the total of people receive regular unemployment insurance benefits totals 1,425,207, officials said.

The state's report on payroll employment – wage and salary jobs – in the nonfarm industries of California totaled 13,880,700 in June, a net loss of 27,600 jobs since the May survey, the state said. That loss in June followed a gain of 31,100 jobs in May.

Six categories – mining and logging; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; professional and business services; educational and health services; and leisure and hospitality – added jobs over the month, gaining 16,200 jobs, the Employment Development Department said. Manufacturing posted the largest increase over the month, adding 7,300 jobs.

The Employment Development Department's data showed that five categories – construction;

information; financial activities; other services; and government – reported job declines in June, down 43,800 jobs. Government posted the largest decline over the month, down by 28,900 jobs.

In a year-over-year comparison, from June 2009 to June 2010, nonfarm payroll employment in California decreased by 186,100 jobs, down 1.3 percent, the state said.

Three industry divisions – information; professional and business services; and educational and health services – posted job gains over the year, adding 30,400 jobs. The state's data showed that educational and health services recorded the largest increase over the year on both a numerical and percentage basis, up 21,900 jobs, a 1.3-percent increase.

Eight categories – mining and logging; construction; manufacturing; trade, transportation and utilities; financial activities; leisure and hospitality; other services; and government – posted job declines over the year, down 216,500 jobs, the state said.

Construction employment showed the largest decline over the year on both a numerical and percentage basis, down by 74,400 jobs, a 12-percent decline, according to the report.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .


A diagram of a simplified Clear Lake food web, presented at a presentation on Clear Lake during the Lake County Fish and Wildlife Advisory Committee meeting on Thursday, July 15, 2010. The diagram came from a report titled



THE GEYSERS – A 3.2-magnitude earthquake was reported near The Geysers geothermal steamfield during the early morning hours on Sunday.

The US Geological Survey reported that the quake occurred at 12:49 a.m. two miles north of The Geysers, five miles west of Cobb and seven miles west northwest of Anderson Springs, at a depth of 2.4 miles.

The survey received two shake reports – one from Berkeley and one from Sea Ranch.

Last Thursday two quakes – measuring 4.0 and 3.8 – were reported near The Geysers, as Lake County News has reported.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKEPORT – Caltrans reported that an emergency paving project on Highway 29 from just north of the junction of Highway 29 and 175 in Lakeport to just south of Mockingbird Lane will begin on Wednesday, July 21.

The top layer of deteriorating asphalt will be removed and replaced with a layer of rubberized asphalt which includes ground up rubber from used automobile tires, officials reported.

This project will use 405 tons of recycled rubber, enough to keep the equivalent of 62,000 passenger car tires from ending up in landfills. Caltrans reported that rubberized asphalt is more flexible than conventional asphalt, and has been shown to last longer.

The agency anticipated that paving will be completed by Aug. 13.

Work hours are 4 a.m. to 4 p.m., weekdays. Caltrans reported that traffic will be restricted to one lane in each direction of travel. Motorists may experience minor traffic slowdowns.

On Wednesday, July 21, the southbound offramp to 11th Street (Exit 103) will be closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., the agency reported.

Beginning Monday, July 26, ramps at Lakeport Boulevard (Exit 102), 11th Street, Park Way (Exit 106) and Nice-Lucerne Cutoff Road (Exit 108) will be intermittently closed. Caltrans said no more than one onramp and offramp will be closed at a time.

For more information about rubberized asphalt visit www.calrecycle.ca.gov/tires/RAC/.

For the most current road information on all state highways, please call 1-800-427-7623 (1-800-GAS-ROAD) or visit www.dot.ca.gov.

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NORTHSHORE – In the midst of a blistering host Friday, fire crews responded to wildland fires and a blaze in a Nice home attributed to circuit overload for a marijuana grow.

Shortly before 1 p.m. Friday Cal Fire aircraft were circling over a residential area in Nice, where a three-story home at 3116 Knob caught fire, according to Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Steve Hart.

Four engines from Northshore Fire, two engines from Cal Fire and one engine from Lakeport Fire responded to the blaze, Hart said.

With the heat being so bad – Hart estimated it was around 103 or 104 degrees – they had extra crews on scene so they could switch the firefighters out quickly.

Hart said the fire extended from the basement area all the way to the attic, which presented a big problem for the firefighters.

He said crews leapfrogged each and other chased the fire from floor to floor. Some crews were pulling out the ceiling to expose the fire so other crews could come in behind them to work on attacking and extinguishing it.

At the same time, Cal Fire had two air tankers and an air attack circling overhead. Hart said they didn't end up needing to drop water, but were there in case the fire got into nearby vegetation.

It took firefighters about 30 minutes to contain the fire, and Hart said they managed to save the house.

“We contained the fire on the north third of the residence and were able to save the reminder of the house all the way up to the main floor,” Hart said.

Hart said the fire's cause was a direct result of overuse of appliances associated with a marijuana grow operation, which was located throughout the home. The appliance usage overloaded the circuits and the fire broke out.

He estimated the home's value to be about $500,000 with about $100,000 damage resulting from the fire.

The home's renter was out of town at the time and the residence was unoccupied, Hart said. There were no injuries to firefighters and no other structures were threatened or damaged.

As the fire was burning in Nice, a wildland fire broke out on Sulphur Bank and North Drive in Clearlake Oaks, according to Northshore Fire Protection District Battalion Chief Pat Brown.

Cal Fire led the response to the five-acre fire, with Battalion Chief Linda Green acting as incident commander, he said.

Brown said Cal Fire sent two aircraft, one helicopter, four engines and two hand crews, with Northshore sending Brown, an engine and a water tender and Lake County Fire sending two engines, a water tender and Battalion Chief Charlie Diener.

Cal Fire also reported a small fire in Upper Lake was quickly contained early Friday afternoon.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

A burned pickup facing the embankment where the remains of a destroyed motorhome were located following a crash and fire near Paradise Cove between Lucerne and Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Sunday, July 18, 2010. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.






PARADISE VALLEY – A three-vehicle collision on Highway 20 Sunday afternoon claimed one woman's life and sparked a grass fire, with the roadway closed several hours as firefighters worked at the scene.

The incident, dispatched at around 1:30 p.m., occurred on the highway above the Paradise Cove subdivision.

California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Crutcher, the crash's investigating officer, said a motorhome traveling westbound veered into the eastbound lane and broadsided a Chevrolet Equinox SUV on the driver's side, killing the female driver.

The motorhome then traveled a short way further, colliding head-on with a full-size pickup that Crutcher said had been traveling eastbound behind the Equinox.

Following that second collision, the motorhome went over the embankment and the pickup was left pointing toward the steep embankment above the subdivision. The motorhome burned to the ground, with the pickup also destroyed by fire. Firefighters continued to spray down both vehicles and the charred ground.

The collision sparked a small wildland fire which burned both sides of the roadway, jumping over to the hillside from the ignition point at the crash area, according to Miguel Lanigan, a Lake County News contributing photographer who was on the scene.

The fire made a run up the hill into oak trees and high grass, where Northshore Fire Battalion Chief Pat Brown said five acres were burned.




A Cal Fire helicopter with a water tank hovers over the fire scene near Paradise Cove between Lucerne and Clearlake Oaks, Calif., on Sunday, July 18, 2010. Photo by Tinna Morlatt.



Brown said several good Samaritans – a number of young men who came up to the scene from Paradise Cove – pulled the motorhome driver out of the vehicle, then took him to a home and assisted Northshore Fire Paramedic Chrissy Pittman with caring for the man.

The young men placed wet towels on the man's burns “and were a very great help to Chrissy as other firefighters were stopping the fire and helping other victims,” Brown said.


The CHP said the motorhome's driver was that vehicle's only occupant.


Crutcher said the pickup's three occupants escaped with only minor injuries, while REACH air ambulance transported the male Equinox passenger to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital via REACH and the elderly male motorhome driver to UC Davis Medical Center with burns and other injuries.

A large multiagency response was on scene for the incident, with Cal Fire and Northshore Fire running a joint incident command, Brown said.

Brown said Northshore Fire Protection District sent three medics, four engines, a water tender, two battalion chiefs – he and Steve Hart – and Chief Jim Robbins, who directed the landing of the air ambulances at Cal Fire's Clearlake Oaks station.

Cal Fire reported that it sent seven engines, two crews, two dozers, an air attack plane, two air tankers and two helicopters.


The helicopters carried water and the fixed-wing plane used retardant on the fire, according to witnesses.\


Sharri Moore estimated that the helicopter made 20 or more passes after scooping up water from Clear Lake.





Cal Fire hand crews worked on a hillside above Highway 20 that caught fire as the result a fatal three-vehicle collision on Sunday, July 18, 2010, in Lake County, Calif. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



The hand crews worked on the hillside, cutting down trees and fighting the fire there, with mop up continuing for several hours. A dozer worked along the base of the hill, cutting through the charred earth.

Other agencies assisting included Lakeport Fire Protection District and Lake County Fire Protection, which provided a medic unit and a water tender, respectively, under a mutual aid agreement, and the US Forest Service, Brown said.

Lake County Sheriff's deputies also were on hand to assist with scene control and with the removal of the fatality.

Several CHP officers were on scene to assist Crutcher with the investigation, conducting measurements and photographing the scene.

Traffic was backed up for miles on either side of the crash, with some of the motorists who were caught closer to the crash scene pulling out lawn chairs to sit in the shade as they waited. Dozens of other drivers turned around.

Caltrans had road closures in place at Lucerne and Clearlake Oaks.





The motorhome was burned down to the group after it collided with two vehicles and went over an embankment on Highway 20 in Lake County, Calif., on Sunday, July 18, 2010. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




After 5 p.m. the remainder of the units on the scene were being released, according to radio reports.

CHP officials said a full report with more specifics on the crash and the extent of injuries will be released later Sunday.

Brown said Northshore Fire wanted to find the young men who helped rescue the motorhome driver so the district could thank them. Anyone with information about the identities of the young people can call Northshore Fire Protection's headquarters in Lucerne, 707-274-3100.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .




California Highway Patrol officers survey the scene of a fatal three-vehicle collision on Sunday, July 18, 2010, along Highway 20 in Lake County, Calif. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.





A Cal Fire plane drops fire retardant on the small wildland fire that broke out after a Sunday afternoon crash on Highway 20 in Lake County, Calif. Photo taken by Savannah Bowers from a boat on Clear Lake.

Veggie Girl Esther Oertel discusses the wonderful apricot in this week's column.





It wouldn’t be fair to write about the delicately sweet apricot without indulging in – er, researching – their flavor a bit. I have a bowl of five fully ripe examples at my side, purchased fresh at Friday night’s farmers’ market in Clearlake.

It’s a privilege to access fully ripe apricots, as the season is short and most commercial operations pick them on the green side for better shelf worthiness.

While you can hasten the ripening process by placing them in a paper bag and leaving them at room temperature, their flavor and sweetness remains the same as the day of harvest. Only their texture, color and juiciness will improve off tree.

An apricot picked ripe is a rare thing of beauty, and I’m especially thankful that local farmers bring them to market ripe from the tree.

Apricots are an early summer fruit. Depending on where they’re grown, their season begins anywhere from mid-May to mid-June and generally runs a couple of months. They’re at farmers’ markets now, but may not be for long.

My mind rushes to “The Arabian Nights,” a favorite book of childhood, when a gently fragrant apricot is at hand. I think of Persian kings and warm nights in Morocco. This softly velvet, light orange fruit has been a favorite in the Middle East since ancient times.

While there is argument as to where the apricot was first cultivated (some say China, others India), its origins are most often associated with Armenia. Its scientific name, Prunus armeniaca, means Armenian plum, and it has been cultivated in that country since ancient, even prehistoric, times.

Apricots were introduced to Greece by Alexander the Great, and then to Europe by a Roman general named Lucullus.

Speaking of ancient Greece, experts in its mythology believe apricots were the “golden apples of Hesperides,” the fruit that Hercules was ordered to pick in the 11th of his 12 labors.

They were popular in ancient Persia – dried ones were valuable commodities on Persian trade routes – and they remain an important fruit in Persia’s modern day counterpart, Iran.

Not surprisingly, the main producers of apricots worldwide are all in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions, with one lone exception, Japan.

In the U.S., California is the king of apricot production, fully 95 percent of it. Most of modern American production of apricots comes from the seedlings carried to the West Coast by Spanish missionaries which, in turn, were from the seeds of trees that were introduced to the New World by the English.

The previously mentioned five apricots at my side (long since eaten) provided me with my entire daily requirement of vitamin A. They’re also high in vitamin C and fiber.

Apricots are full of the important antioxidant beta carotene, which is converted to vitamin A in our bodies, protecting our eyes, hair, skin, gums and various glands.

Right now I’m thinking of warm, spicy apricot chutney that’s flavored with ginger, coriander and a bit of garlic. It’s a wonderful way to preserve fresh apricots, and a recipe is below. It’s fantastic on grilled chicken or pork, or eaten directly on a cracker, with or without cream cheese. Be sure to try it with goat cheese, too!

In addition to being delicious, there is a health benefit to consuming apricots in chutney. The cooking process breaks down their cell walls, thus releasing more beta carotene to nourish our bodies.

Apricots added to chicken gives it an Asian or Middle Eastern feel, depending on the spices and flavors used.

Tossing halved apricots on the grill brings out their natural sweetness. Balsamic vinegar (mixed with honey or plain) can be brushed on before grilling to add an interesting layer of flavor. Grilled apricots are a wonderful accompaniment to pork and are delicious when served with vanilla ice cream.

A simple, tasty and colorful hors d’oeuvre can be made when halved, pitted apricots are filled with cream cheese and sprinkled with crushed pistachios.

If you were overly ambitious in buying fresh apricots and have a large quantity that are getting near the overripe stage, you can puree them (sans pits) in a food processor to make a delicious nectar. Add just enough water to make a thick juice-like consistency. If apricots are very ripe, it’s unlikely you’ll need to sweeten the puree, but a bit of honey, agave nectar or simple syrup may be added to your liking.

And what about those apricots I just enjoyed? They were ripe, sweet and oh-so-delicious! I hope you’ll have a chance to enjoy many while the season lasts. Bon appétit!

Apricot chutney

5 cups of fresh apricots (about 2 pounds), rinsed, halved and pitted

1-1/2 cups brown sugar

1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Just under 1 cup raisins (about 4 ounces), dark or light

1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

1 cup cider vinegar

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

3 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

Salt to taste

Put all the ingredients into a large pan and boil until the apricots are very soft.

Remove the apricots from the pan with a slotted spoon and put them into clean, dry jars.

Boil the remaining liquid until it becomes a thick syrup.

Pour the syrup into the jars, cover them, and allow them to cool before storing.

If not using sterile canning procedure, store the chutney in the fridge.

If desired, a seeded, finely chopped jalapeño pepper may be added to the recipe for a bit of heat. Cook along with all the other ingredients.

Esther Oertel, the "Veggie Girl," is a personal chef and culinary coach and is passionate about local produce. Oertel owns The SageCoach Personal Chef Service and teaches culinary classes at Chic Le Chef in Hidden Valley Lake. She welcomes your questions and comments; e-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County residents who are considering purchasing high energy efficient appliances will have more opportunities for rebates from the California Cash for Appliances PLUS program after July 29.

The California Energy Commission (CEC) issued draft guidelines expanding the Cash for Appliances rebate program to include high energy efficient dishwashers, freezers, water heaters, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. The expanded program is California Cash for Appliances PLUS.

Consumers still have up to 120 days from the purchase date to submit their rebate application by mail.

Choices for eligible models include 273 clothes washers, 139 refrigerators and 314 room air conditioners. A complete list of eligible models may be viewed at www.cash4appliances.org/products/index.html.

To date, the CEC has received more than 59,000 applications with approximately $19 million still available for rebates. A tracker is updated on the remaining amount of funds available at www.cash4appliances.org.

The California Cash for Appliances PLUS rebate program proposal will be heard at the July 28 CEC business meeting. Consumers can begin to purchase from the new selection of appliances beginning on July 29 until funds are exhausted. Rebates are awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Consumers are eligible for a rebate when they purchase a qualified high energy efficient appliance, properly recycle their old appliance, and submit a complete application package within 120 days of the appliance purchase.

Instructions on how to complete an application for the California Cash for Appliances rebate is available at www.cash4appliances.org/consumers/Rebate-Form.pdf.

Eligible energy efficient appliances and rebate amounts available are: refrigerators $200, clothes washers $100, and room air conditioners up to $50. Proposed energy efficient appliance rebate include: dishwashers $100, freezers $50, water heaters $300-$750, and HVAC systems: $500-$1000.

To be eligible for the rebate, Lake County residents must recycle their old appliances at South Lake Refuse and Recycling, who will issue a Recycling Form. Recycling Forms can only be issued at South Lake Refuse and Recycling to be eligible for the Cash for Appliances Rebate program.

South Lake Refuse and Recycling is located at the entrance of the Eastlake Landfill, 16015 Davis St., Clearlake, and open 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.

To recycle appliances any time, customers in the unincorporated areas may call their hauler to schedule a “bulky item pick up” for a $10 fee.

All county residents may drop off appliances at Lake County Waste Solutions, 230 Soda Bay Road, Lakeport in addition to South Lake Refuse and Recycling also for a $10 fee.

Because of the continued availability of funds, the CEC is expanding consumer choices for high energy efficient appliances.

The revised rebate program guidelines can be viewed at


Additional information also is available through retailer locations throughout the county and consumers can call the toll-free number for questions at: 1-888-390-4034.

Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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